Saint-Pierre Fenouillet

During the early Middle Ages, Saint-Pierre Fenouillet castle was a centre for the Cathars and, like Montsegur, Puilaurens and Queribus, served as a refuge for the faydits in the last days of the wars.

The district of Fenouillides (Fenolheda), in which the castle stands, was first mentioned in 842 when King Charles le Chauve of the Franks (840-77) gave it to one Milo.  It is assumed that Milo's successors, the counts of Razes, were pressurised by the counts of Carcassonne.  By the late ninth century the district was held by the house of Cerdanya, the lords of Fenouillet castle.  The family of the counts of Cerdanya became divided into the counts of Cerdanya and Besalu, with Fenouillet passing to the latter under their own viscounts, the first known of whom was Peter (Petroni), mentioned in February of 1017.  In 1109 war came to the district as the count of Besalu had bequeathed his lands to the count of Barcelona.  However, the count of Cerdanya claimed the Fenouilledes and besieged the castles.  Viscount William Peter Fenouillet eventually paid him tribute for his castle and its tributary, Castle Sabarda.  In 1111 the situation was reversed with William Peter paying homage again to the count of Barcelona.  On 5 July 1173, his descendant, Arnaud the son of Udalgar Fenouillet, wrote his will.  In it he left his nephew, Berenger Corbieres, his lands, as well as to his 4 sisters, a share of the castles of Fenouillet, Albières (Albedu), Tournel (Talteul) and St Stephen of Bilerag.  All were to be held under Viscont Ermene of Narbonne.  It would appear that this will was never enforced because Arnaud subsequently had a daughter, Ava Fenouillet, who married Bertrand Saissac (bef.1170-1209+) and took both the castle with the title of viscount Fenouillet to Saissac.

Viscount Bertrand Saissac of Fenouillet was one of the major vassals of Carcassonne and supported his lord against the Crusaders from 1209.  After the fall of  Carcassonne in 1209 and then Toulouse in 1215, Fenouillet became a refuge for Cathars, as did the castles of
Aguilar, Montsegur, Peyrepertuse, Puilaurens and Quéribus.  Consequently, Peter Saissac (d.1243), the son of Bernard and Ava, was deprived of his possessions in Narbonne in 1222, although he later helped to crush the army of Amaury, son of Simon Montfort.  As a result King Louis VIII of France invaded in 1226 and gave Fenouillet castle to Count Nunyo Sancho of Roussillon.  Peter continued his war to regain Fenouillet, but was forced to admit defeat by the treaty of Paris/Meaux in 1229.  Recognising the inevitable he sold Fenouillet with its castle to Nunyo in recognition of the ‘extensive damage and harm' he had done in Roussillon.  In this his mother, Ava Fenouillet, joined with him.  Despite this agreement, Peter reopened the war with attacks on Fenouillet in 1236, 1240 and 1242, all of which failed.  Although still only in his 40s, Peter withdrew to the Templar Commandery at Mas Deu (east of the town of Trouillas in the eastern Pyrenees) and died in 1243, leaving a son, Hugh Saissac (d.1262+).

Despite the loss of Fenouillet castle to France in 1229, Cathars continued to live in the district.  Inquisitorial registers record several witnesses identifying heretical groups even in the castle after 1240.  In 1244, Imbert Salles, a survivor of Montsegur stated,
I saw at Fenouillet, in the house of Bernard Vivier, the 'parfaites' Marquèse et Prima... Bernard Vivier and his mother, whose name a do not know, and Raymond Marti of Fenouillet.
Also recorded were the statements that the brothers Arnaud and Beranger were the Vivier lords of a nearby castle (Coustaussa) and had a house in Fenouillet castle.  They were repeatedly noted in the company of heretics at Montsegur castle before the siege of 1243.  Support for the Cathars continued in the district and in 1246 Peter Paraire of Queribus was noted as Cathar deacon of the Fenouilledes.  Cathar resistence to the Catholics in the area continued until the fall of Queribus in 1255 and beyond.  Indeed the granting of the area to King James of Aragon (d.1276) in 1257 would suggest they were looking for his protection.  This they didn't get and the next year the viscounty was awarded to King Louis IX (d.1270) as part of the treaty of Corbeil.  Hugh Saissac unsuccessfully contested the disinheritance of his family in 1262.

Fenouillet remained a royal fortress for the rest of its useful existence, while nearby Castel Fizel was first mentioned in 1260 and Sabarda in the early twelfth century.  Coins continued to be lost in the castle during the fourteenth century, but the castle, of an obsolete design, seems to have been gradually run down and dismantled.  It has been suggested that a ramp built against the keep door was made as an aid to demolition.  The abandonment of the castle led to the increased importance of the smaller nearby castle of Sabarda which was much more defensible with a much smaller royal garrison.  St Paul de Fenouillet fell to the Spanish in 1625.

The castle is protected on its E&W sides by high cliffs and a steep drop to its north.  To the east lay the vill and the main entrance, the castle having three lines of defence in all.  First was a barbican entrance at the extreme SE end of the site, the lowest section nearest the town.  Above this was a small ward which stretched back to the NW, of which foundations and a long rectangular tower remain to the SE.  At the west end a mostly buried square building shows traces of a postern to the north.

The outer ward was commanded by the second line of defence which had a small castelette to the SE.  The central portion of the wall is best preserved and is made of large, roughly squared blocks which are different to those in the rest of the walls.  The base of a gatehouse also remains.  Above this again was the main ward which consisted of an apsed church at the western end.  East of this was the main ward with a rectangular tower at the west end.  Overlooking all was a long rectangular keep with the thickest walls of the castle.  Centrally was a long barbican with fine yellow limestone quoins and 3 loops.

Excavations carried on since 1994 have found ceramics, coins, bronze and iron objects, food, coal and seeds, while studies of the excavated charcoal found that in the first half of the thirteenth century there was a change in vegetation indicating an increased population.  It seems likely that the residential areas were also extended at this time.  The defensive side of the fortress was also developed, the barbican being built on the site of the original gate and lines of walled terracing were constructed to form a chicane.

Excavations in the large keep found evidence in the same time period for intense aristocratic and military occupation. A large amount of iron items, mostly crossbow related, were found amongst a unique set of gilded bronze decorations for clothing or furniture, some with the heraldic symbol for the Fenouillet family, viz. chequered gold and blue.  Many tokens were also discovered with heraldic representations as well as food debris, mainly animal and fish bones.

Nearby are two other castles Sabarda and Castel-Fizel, protecting access to the main castle.

Why not join me here and at other French castles?  Information on this and other tours can be found at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry

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